In a gathering that once again unfolded as part spirited call to action and part revival-style church service, the keynote speaker at the 26th Annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast urged an estimated 350 attendees at The Commons Monday to reach beyond their normal circle to gain new understanding, especially from those who could be battling injustice or oppression.
“How can we become a beloved community,” asked global business consultant and clergyman Kendall C. Wright, “if we remain clustered in these pockets of sameness? Tell me how you’re going to address the concerns of the community when you don’t even truly know what my concerns are.”
The morning’s theme was drawn from one of King’s classic messages: “Black, Beautiful, Blessed and Proud.”
The Ohio-based Wright, familiar to some locals because of his past conference work here on race relations, with Cummins Inc., and preaching at some of the local churches, lightly scolded those in the crowd who sat at tables with people they already knew (though that was partly because of corporate table designations) rather than seeking out those unfamiliar to them.
“As long as we hide behind hedges of homogeneity … it’s going to be impossible to serve the needs of a multi-cultural community,” he said.
As Wright spoke, some in the crowd popped up from their seat and called out encouragement, ranging from “amen” to “you’d better preach.” One of those attendees, Toni Glover, visiting from Louisville, Kentucky, afterward explained such enthusiasm.
“When the truth is the truth,” Glover said, “then you stand on it.”
Wright reminded his audience that he disagrees with those who wonder who “the next Martin Luther King will be.”
“We don’t need another Dr. King,” Wright said. “What we need is to make a commitment to act on the message (of unity) that Dr. King delivered to us.”
The diverse crowd, one of the largest for the breakfast in several years, ranged from city and county leaders to foundation and nonprofit executives to pastors and members of law enforcement from the city and county. The local African American Pastors Alliance planned and coordinated the event.
Mayor Jim Lienhoop was among the breakfast’s many speakers about the impact of King, who led the nation’s civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. He was assassinated April 4, 1968 when he went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support its striking sanitation workers, most of whom were Black.
“King saw that violence solved no problem,” Lienhoop said. “He knew that it merely created other, more complicated ones.”
Jim Roberts, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. superintendent, themed his message at the microphone around the following famous King quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
That in turn, reminded Roberts, a huge, classic pop-rock music fan, of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic hit “The Sound of Silence.” Roberts especially highlighted the danger of silence amid hatred and injustice and inequality and underscored the song’s line “silence like a cancer grows.”
Roberts additionally indicated that problems arise because of more than a silence from refusing to speak up.
“There’s also the problem of silence from the standpoint of action,” he said.
Like a few of the breakfasts before, this one included a rousing and exuberant African American Community Choir of vocalists from various churches singing gospel tunes. The music of the group, coordinated by Rosslyn King and keyboardist Danny Green, left many in the crowd swaying and clapping to the beat. Plus, one of the members of the ensemble sang the civil rights signature tune “We Shall Overcome” while people went through a serving line to get their bacon-and-eggs breakfast.
Columbus City Council member Jerone Wood, a longtime Christian mime who has performed at these events off and on since 2010, added his talent to the proceedings. He energetically mimed his way through a effusive praise song.
The following local senior high school students were awarded $1,000 college scholarships from the local African American Pastors Alliance. IUPUC and Ivy Tech Community College each have agreed to add another $1,000 for those students choosing to attend their institution. And the African American Fund of Bartholomew County has agreed to give $1,000 for these students’ second year of college. Honored were:
- A’Kai Pearson
- Macey Golden
- JR Phillips Wynne
- Marieme Niang
- Savion Miles
- Kayla Jones
- Femi Ige